The NHL has suspended Toronto Maple Leafs‘ defenseman Roman Polak for two games, the league announced Thursday. The suspension stems from a hit that Polak made on Columbus Blue Jackets‘ forward Oliver Bjorkstrand that resulted in the Maple Leafs’ defender getting a five-minute major penalty as well as an ejection from the game.
Toronto’s Roman Polak suspended two games for boarding Columbus’ Oliver Bjorkstrand. https://t.co/pHvhFoOaZW
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) March 23, 2017
Hit and Suspension Explained
The video explains the play in a step-by-step manner that fans of the NHL have become accustomed to over the last few years. The hit and suspension are both explained as follows:
Bjorkstrand reaches the puck, stops up and attempts to reverse the puck deep into the corner. As he stops, Polak finishes his check with force – driving through Bjorkstrand back to send him violently into the boards. This is boarding. It is important to note that this is not a play where a sudden movement by a player turns a legal hit, into an illegal hit immediately before contact is made.
Polak is tracking Bjorkstrand from behind for some time from the moment both players go behind the net until they reach the boards. While we acknowledge that Bjorkstrand turns in a manner that makes this hit more dangerous and contributes to the violence of the hit, Bjorkstrand is not eligible to be checked by Polak on this play. The onus is on Polak to make sure he avoids this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimizes the force of the impact. Instead, Polak drives Bjork forcefully into the glass, causing an injury.
The video concludes by summarizing that the play was a boarding penalty, Bjorkstrand was injured and that Polak has zero prior history of fines or suspensions in his career.
High Stakes in a Playoff Race
For the Maple Leafs, this comes as a big hit as the team is looking to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the 2013 season, and just the second time since the lockout in 2004-05. The race in the Atlantic Division has been as close as it gets this season with the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning all fighting for three spots, as well as competition with some of the Metropolitan Division for the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
Polak has played in 67 of the Maple Leafs 72 games this season, posting four goals and eight points with 61 penalty minutes and a plus-9 rating. He’s averaged 17:47 of ice time per game and has been a veteran presence on the Leafs’ blue line. In 626 career NHL games split between the St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks, Polak has scored 23 goals and 112 points while also competing in 49 postseason games with two assists to his name.
Scary Game for Blue Jackets
While Polak is a seasoned veteran, Bjorkstrand is just 21-years-old and has played only 34 games in his NHL career so far, scoring 10 goal and 19 points. In 22 games this season, the Danish winger has scored six goals and 11 points while also posting 14 goals and 26 points in 37 games with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. Fortunately for the Blue Jackets, they have already clinched a playoff berth with 100 points and 10 games remaining in the season.
The team also had a scare earlier in the game when captain Nick Foligno went careening into the boards alongside Maple Leafs’ forward Leo Komarov – though this play was very clearly an incidental contact situation where the player simply lost balance. Fortunately, Foligno was okay and returned to the game within a few minutes of leaving the team’s bench, leaving the Blue Jackets faithful with the ability to breathe a sigh of relief.